Friday, 16 December 2016

21. Everybody

It's 2016, and 2017 is fast approaching. I think by now everybody knows - everybody should know - that cigarette smoking is bad for you, for me, for all of us. I'm also very confident that we've all seen the gruesome pictorial caveats associated with smoking, like this one in Malaysia :

and its equivalent in the UK :

I mean, you've got to be really really obtuse to not get the message man.

But did you know, there was a time when smoking was advocated and even advertised?

Thanks to these photos from the Smoking lecture during the Public Health module, the lecture hall had a fit of giggles at the questionable marketing techniques of people in the late 19th century. But hey, at least they worked! How else could smoking gain its popularity boost? The smoking practice was so pervasive that even people of the healthcare profession picked it up! Look : 

Trust me I'm a dentist...?

And then the professor showed us something very interesting, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among men and women over time :

I wish I recorded the exact words he uttered while explaining this particular slide so that I can quote him verbatim here, but I remember they were something to the effect of : It took years before a lot of women started smoking too... Whatever men did, women followed suit.... And this graph perfectly depicts that... Yeah, something like that.

About 30 years later, the entire globe was hit by an epidemic of lung cancer. Lung cancer at that point was only just recognised - you best bet they weren't very good at treating it - so a lot of people died from the malady i.e. high mortality rate. Surgeons scratched their heads in bewilderment while some scientists had their light bulb moment, put two and two together, and more two and two (four and four?), leading to the confluence of studies and evidence, thus the link between cigarette smoking & lung cancer began to transpire.

If it's true that women really did take after men's smoking habit, does the mortality rate, then, reflect & support this? 

Surprise, surprise :

The women's mortality rate, of course, did go up as well, though not as high as men's.

I stared at this slide unblinking for a few seconds as the effects of the professor's words and the graphs started to come in full measure. My memory played a flashback from when I was 13 or 14, I was telling my friend(s?) that I wanted to be an electrical engineer or oil engineer or whatever, can't remember for sure, the memory is a bit vague, but I can very vividly recall my rationale for such ambition : because there weren't many women doing that and I wanted to prove to men that I could do it too.

But I was 13/14, too naive to realise that I was indeed naive, and the words I said were just spewed in random moments of spontaneity, constructed on nothing solid.

But that day in the lecture hall I kind of just stopped in my tracks and ransacked my memory for other episodes where I did something or thought of doing something or had a thought process of something by propping them against the standards set by the opposite gender. I forced myself to remember the many times that I saw myself not as my own entity, but someone in relation to men & boys. My mind was full to the brim with memories of my rather stupid actions, inspired by the men & boys that I was surrounded with. 

I remember wanting to cycle with no hands just because my little brother could do it and he kept showing off to me, feeding me this idea that cycling hands-free was a cool & superior skill. He didn't even explicitly say so, but he kept provoking and suggesting it in a tantalising kind of way, and he knew I took the bait when a few days later I got myself a scraped & bleeding knee from cycling down a hill with arms spread out. He grinned his stupid grin at my idiotic attempt to prove myself to him, and I wiped off my streaming tears.

There were many other instances where I did things not because I truly wanted to, but because I saw some other guy doing it and I felt pressurised to do the same so that I could be on his level. It's not him, it's me, I was the one who succumbed to the pressure that I myself exerted upon me. I put him on a pedestal, I set him as a benchmark to begin with.

Was I stupid or was I stupid?

Ye betul tu 10 markah, I was indeed stupid.

Let's, as a hypothetical exercise, entertain the possibility of my ambition to become an electrical engineer. Not that I hold anything against any electrical engineers, but imagine okay, just imagine if I had pursued such vocation for the very reason that I mentioned up there: to prove that I can.

I have no clue how exactly an electrical engineer goes about his/her working day, but imagine this.

Imagine me, Shahirah Hasbullah, wearing a yellow safety helmet, perched at the apex of an aluminium ladder, fixing a light bulb into its socket on the ceiling. Imagine me bossily asking someone (who's not an electrical engineer, of course) to turn on the switch. Imagine the bulb actually emitting light, and in the background the words of today's internet slang echoed "AYYY FAM LIT AF,". Imagine me, proudly smiling, nostrils flaring successfully proving my ability to work a completely functional electrical circuit to other male electrical engineers in the room. 

Okay, now what?

What's the point of being able to do that when I'm actually scared out of my wits of height and now trembling in fear because I don't know how to safely get down the ladder? What's the point of proving that I can do something when I don't even enjoy doing it? Where is the sense of accomplishment in that? What's the point of measuring my value in reference to men?

There was a time that I was wildly mistaken of women in power being synonymous to women empowerment. Like a petulant child throwing tantrum, whatever men have, I thought, women gotta have it too. Why? Because err, why not? Simply. Using worldly ranks as a unit of measurement and men as the threshold value, I created this constant need to be better, wiser, smarter, richer, wealthier, than men. Whatever I did, I assessed my progress against men, instead of myself, and more importantly, I wanted the results to be known by men. That was the endgame; I wanted to be ahead of men, and not ahead of who I was before. My God, my desperation for recognition...

Before I knew it, I was enveloped in misandry, whether I admitted it or not. 

But I'd like to think I've grown out of the bigotry.

Now, there are things, I believe, that men are more able to do for which they have the inherently specialised skills than women, and there are things out there that women are more adept at because of the very nature they're born with than men. It's called niche. And it's biological. The way I see it, we need each other, men and women, we complement each other, and as an African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.". This is not Fast and Furious, I don't want to go fast nanti accident. Safe to say I have abandoned the idea to demonstrate women's ability to survive without men and I have accepted that we exist symbiotically. Now, I embrace and glorify the unique traits women are born with to make this world a better place.

Besides, as a Muslim, God has given me the privilege of heaven at my feet, why would I give that up in exchange for the other privileges of my male counterpart?

Bet you didn't see this whole thing coming from the Smoking lecture, did you? Hahah. ANYWAY! If there's anything you should take away from this blog post, it's this : Everybody, do me a favour and don't smoke.

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